Monday, May 9, 2016

Donald Trump and Republican lemonade

Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.  ~Matthew 9:17

If you think my title and my use of this trope from Matthew’s gospel (with parallels in Mark and Luke) are my way of setting up a pro-Trump comparison—like “Trump is to today’s Republican party what Jesus was to ancient Israelite religion”—well, think again.

My title and this passage are meant to set up two things: one satirical, one serious.

Satire first. If you’ve been following the American news the past week, you may have noticed that the latest twist is that Mr. T is the “presumptive Republican nominee” for president, thanks to the good men and women back home in Indiana. (Indiana?! It’s enough to make a grown man cry. But that’s a subject for another post.)

As a result, many Republicans (though certainly not all)—even those who strongly opposed Mr. Thrasymachus vocally and recently—are trying to look for silver linings, put the best face on things, and so on (see exhibit P).

I call this game “Republican Lemonade.”

To echo, of course, that infamous urban rule of thumb, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Now Republican Lemonade is a game that many Republicans (present company included) have played, to one degree or another, in past elections when moving from the primary to the general.

But this year, “Republican Lemonade” also has to overcome a sentiment which, in yet another strange example of art imitating life, is reflected in some tart lyrics from one of Beyonce’s newest songs (“Sorry”) on her newest album (yes, “Lemonade”)—

"Middle fingers up, put them hands high/ “Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye.”

I know, I know, she’s singing about a cheating lover. But doesn’t she capture well the sentiment many “conservative” “Republican” “voters”—many of them “evangelical” “Christians”—seem to have towards “their” elected representatives this year? (Explaining those scare quotes is a topic of several other posts. Sorry, I’m Not Sorry.)

So, one dilemma faced by the makers of Republican Lemonade this year is: why shouldn’t we take precisely the same Beyonce-like attitude to Trump and his followers that he and many of them took towards us?

One answer of, course, is a version of “if we don’t hang together, we’ll all hang separately.” Gotta beat back the worse threat in the general. And so on.

So, then, putting all this together, and coming back to the curious passage in Matthew that we began with, I offer this:

How to Make Republican Lemonade (2016 version):
Step 1. Toss a yuuuge rotten orange, uncut, into an old blender. 
Step 2. When the blender breaks and becomes a smoking heap by trying to cut through the orange skin, pour the contents into a cup and call it “lemonade.” 
Step 3. Advertise “lemonade” as The Lesser of Two Evils, or Better Than The Alternative, or something equally inspiring.
That’s the relevance of Jesus’ words here. The Grand Old Party is like the old blender / old wineskins. Mr. Tropicana is like the rotten orange / new wine. It’s hard not to see what’s happening as a big huge mess in which one thing busts up another and leaves both of them far worse off in the long run.

OK, that was somewhat cathartic. But is there a serious philosophical question, or point, here?

Well, I think so.

Question: is it not difficult, but ultimately valuable, for any politically inclined person to balance both personal consistency over time and personal integrity at given time?

I think the answer is “yes.”

I think you can see this no matter what your political party affiliation (or if you deliberately have none at all). But I leave it up to you to do the satire and seriousness you find most appropriate to your own station.

It’s difficult because there are both so many so-called “knowns”—such as your preferences, your moral and religious beliefs, your beliefs about the history of different people and different historical situations—and so many so-called “unknowns”—such as how other voters will act, how much the future behavior of candidates will resemble their past, and what circumstances tomorrow will bring.

But it’s valuable because each of us has to live with ourselves. Not just in the collective sense familiar to politics—“we have to live together”—but in the individual sense familiar to each soul—“I have to live with myself, look myself in the mirror, etc.”

Here’s my version of it for now: Mr. Trump and I have some things in common, but I’m still not committing to support or vote for him yet.

You’ve probably heard of “six degrees of separation” linking you and someone else (if not, Wikipedia will help). But since “separation” and “solidarity” are sometimes seen as opposites, I offer, at the risk of damning with faint praise…

My Six Degrees of Solidarity With Mr. Trump:
1. Member of the human family.
2. American citizen.
3. Professing Republican.
4. Professing Christian.
5. White.
6. Male.
1 is a low bar, but hey—it’s important to affirm that he is in this sense my “brother” (even if he may want to be Big Brother).

2 counts too—while it’s partly an accident (of birth), it’s also partly a continual choice (just ask Facebook’s co-founder Eric Saverin).

3 and 4 include the word “professing” in order to cut through a forest of political and theological timber in one swoop. (While my scare quotes above revealed my sympathy for this timber, the move I’m making here doesn’t require dealing with it.)

5 and 6? There are some who would like to make one or both of these into a reason to vote for or against someone. I, on the other hand, do not think either are either.

Bottom line? Even solidarity does not equal or entail support. Sorry.

Russell DiSilvestro
Department of Philosophy
Sacramento State


  1. Russell, thanks for this timely piece. It sounds as if, for all your current misgivings, you could be convinced to support Trump. But I am curious what he could say or do to win your support. He has shown that he is beholden to nothing, including evidence and any of his own previous statements. The only thing you can reasonably predict about Trump is that he will say and do whatever he wants, regardless of what he has said in the past. The people who love him seem to love that very thing about him the most. Michael Lynch made this point nicely in the Stone section of the New York Times yesterday.

    Here is a suggestion. You seem to be an admirer of Paul Ryan. Would it be enough for you that Ryan and perhaps other Republicans you admire decide to support him?

  2. Randy, that's an eminently fair question. But it gets an agnostic answer: I do not know. Yet two things more can be said:

    (1) I don't put a type of "conversion" past Trump--though he'd need to prove his conversion like Paul (apostle, not Ryan) proved his, perhaps by articulating the same coherent position, for at least a month, and in the face of many articulate attacks in real-time (like Cruz did);

    (2) I do like your suggestion about the social proxy for deliberation embedded in your Paul (Ryan, not apostle) suggestion, though the 'other Republicans I admire' currently includes all the writers of the NRO special issue against Trump that came out just before Iowa (, many of whom (though not all) seem like they are inclined to stay #NeverTrump till the world ends.

    (3) For me, it may not really come down to what Trump, or anyone else (like Republicans I admire) does between now and November. It may just come down to me realizing that, in this case, the devil you don't know is actually better than the devil you do know. (I know that reverses the typical rule of thumb.) Perhaps in either case (of voting for Trump or Clinton), to vote is to be a devil's advocate (though not in the Catholic sense of that phrase), and perhaps the other options (not voting at all, or voting for a third-party person) are to be a devil's enabler.